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Who We Are

We are the students and instructors of “Publishing & Marketing Popular Fiction: A Case Study of the Romance Novel” course at Duke University, Spring semesters 2015 – 2021 (HST 248S / GSF 248S / ENG 284S / MMS).  We are readers, scholars, and writers interested in public conversation concerning women’s engagement with popular culture, both historically and today, especially romance fiction.  While this site will largely be created by the students enrolled in the course, we welcome your participation in our discussions, both on this blog and at our UNSUITABLE events.  All events listed on the Public Events schedule are free and open to the public.  If you would like to communicate directly with the course instructor, that contact information is below.

Find us on Twitter at @UnsuitableDuke and on Instagram at @UnsuitableDuke.


Co-founders of UNSUITABLE and instructors of “Publishing & Marketing Popular Fiction”

Spring 2015-2021 Katharine Brophy Dubois, PhD, Lecturing Fellow in the departments of History & Religious Studies, Duke University, is a Duke alumna (Trinity ’89).  She is also Katharine Ashe, an award winning and USA Today bestselling author of historical romantic fiction.  Contact her at: katharine dot dubois at duke dot edu, or via her author website at https://katharineashe.com.

Spring 2015 – Laura Florand, Lecturer, Department of Romance Studies, Duke University, is a professor of French and French literature at Duke and an award-winning and international bestselling author of contemporary romantic fiction.  Contact her at: laura dot florand at duke dot edu. Her author website is www.lauraflorand.com.



We are grateful for the support and input of many: Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; MicroWorlds Lab; Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship; Margaret Brown, Eliza Dandridge, and Laurent Dubois of the Forum for Scholars & Publics; John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute; Kenan Institute for Ethics; the departments of Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies, History, and Religious Studies; the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies; Jules Odendahl-James, PhD, in the Department of Theater Studies and advisor to the “Me Too Monologues”, who came up with the “Unsuitable” idea; David L. Paletz Innovative Course Enhancements grant; Amy Unell of DEMAN and #Artstigators; Professors Nicole Barnes, Adriane Lentz-Smith, John Martin, Thomas Robisheaux, and Julie Andresen Tetel; Professor Eric Murphy Selinger of DePaul University; our wonderful guests and attendees; and everyone who has helped us in creating this course and this series.


  1. As a fan of romantic fiction, especially historical romances, and one who is trying to find my own voice as a writer, it is refreshing to see the romance novel finally coming out of the brown paper bag. I want to be entertained. If I happen to learn something fine but I’m not looking for something heavy that will make me think and depress me. I want something that leaves me happy. I want to view the world with hope. I want to believe that people are basically good and that love will conquer all. I look forward to reading more of this blog and holding my head up as I shout out, yes, I want to be a romance writer.

  2. I still remember the first romance novel I read 30+ years ago (Ellen Argo’s “Jewel of the Seas”). I was drawn in by its focus on Julia’s interest in the “unladylike” pursuits of shipbuilding and sailing, and her desire for travel. I didn’t really notice at the time how much her sexual desire was on display, though it clearly was. I’m interested in the difference between the cover art on the hardcover version I read http://www.amazon.com/Jewel-Seas-Ellen-Argo/dp/0399119590 and the paperback version that more clearly speaks to the genre http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jewel-Seas-Ellen-Argo/dp/0671818457.

    • Fascinating difference between those covers, Laura. Marketing methods profoundly affect how romance fiction is both perceived and consumed, I think.

  3. Bravo, Duke! As a Duke alumna, a member of Romance Writers of America, and a recently self-published romantic suspense author, I applaud you for joining the public conversation about a genre that generated over a billion dollars in sales last year. I will be following Unsuitable with great interest and hope to travel down to Durham for one of your public events. On a personal note, I am happy to report that my family, friends, parents’ friends, colleagues, and people I’ve met at book parties and readings have treated my entrepreneurial adventure in publishing with respect, support, enthusiasm, generosity, and kindness.

    • Congratulations on publishing, Krista, and thanks for your words about the course and events series. We’re thrilled Duke is supporting this project and we’re looking forward to the continued conversation next semester. I hope you’ll be able to join us sometime.

  4. I wrote my first story at age 6, and have always wanted to be a writer. Somehow, 56 years of life intervened, so I just recently finished writing my first historical romance novel. It took months for me to work up the courage to admit to friends and family that I was writing a romance novel. I can now say that NOTHING I’d done in the past 50+ years had been as enjoyable as writing my book. In fact, nothing else I’ve ever done even came close.

    I’m halfway through the second book, have a solid start on the third in the series, and how consider writing my fourth career. Earlier this year, I joined RWA and the local romance writers chapter. I also meet monthly with a small critique group of (four) like-minded romance writers, and have started a community blog called “Love Chat” (visitestero.com), which addresses a range of issues related to both the reading and writing of romantic fiction.

    A writing advisor in an undergraduate program once criticized my romantic short stories because they “all ended when the heroine married–as if her life ended there and nothing more happened to her after she assumed the title of ‘wife.'” We disagreed on that point. First, the STORY was ending; not the PERSON. Second, marriage didn’t (doesn’t) end one’s adventures. It merely signals the end of one phase of the person’s life and heralds the beginning of a new adventure–TOGETHER. That’s as true for husbands as it is for wives, by the way.

    Wish I could join your class and I do hope to follow the conversation as you go along. On behalf of the (growing) legion of romance readers and writers, many thanks for giving this “UNSUITABLE” topic an airing.

  5. Abigal, thanks for your comment! I’m sorry to have missed it when it first came in. I’m so glad you’re writing! Good luck with it. And I wish you could join us, too.

    • Hi, Sandy. Thanks for your interest. This class won’t be available online. Soon, though, the students’ work will begin to appear on this blog. We’ll post when that happens, so you might wish to sign up to receive those posts as emails. The sign-up form is in the right margin of the Home page.

  6. Hi ladies. I’m so thrilled your course is being offered to students. I have always said that it was the depressing endings of classic literature that drove me to write romance. I just quit teaching writing and literature at the University of the Virgin Islands to write fulltime. I write romance inspired by the classics because I think both have value. Just my two cents 🙂

  7. Hello again. I’ve just signed up for the blog postings. Since my last comment, I’ve been asked to present a book talk to an Ohio AAUW group in October. I’m excited–and a little apprehensive, to be frank. I know why I read and write romance and am learning to be proud of both. I believe we can find lots of examples of both good and bad romance writing–also true of other genres, including academic works, for that matter.

    I will have a couple of hours and want to talk about various aspects of the process–writing, editing, blurb writing, selecting cover art, traditional vs. self-publishing, blogging and promoting, accepting the joys and enduring the challenges, countering prejudices against this “unsuitable” genre, etc. Finally, I want to share a few original vs. edited excerpts from one of my books, and also plan to work in one or more short readings. (That’s a lot to cover, I know–an approach I typically refer to as “talk fast, draw pictures.”)

    If anyone has suggestions, recommendations, warnings or insights for me, I’d be pleased to hear from you.

    On a related topic: Please consider offering this course online for those of us who are interested but don’t live in NC. Thanks!


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